Where Power Should Lie

Nothing in the Bill of Rights says one right is less important than the others. The 10th Amendment, which reserves to the states and people those powers not delegated to the federal government, has the same weight as, say, the constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and speech.

For decades conservatives have decried the tendency of liberal politicians and judges to give more power to the federal government at the states' expense, creating large, distant bureaucracies with little accountability. But recently ideologues of all stripes in Washington have tried to trump state power with federal when it suits their purposes.

For example, the House Oct. 28 passed a conservative-backed bill that would effectively overrule Oregon's assisted-suicide law. It would prohibit a doctor from using any drug on the federal list of controlled substances to assist in a suicide.

Assisting another individual to commit suicide is not something we endorse. But it's clearly a state matter; Washington shouldn't intrude.

Another example is President Clinton's renewed push for federal money to hire up to 100,000 local teachers. Decreasing the number of students per classroom can certainly help, but such money gives the federal government too much leverage to determine what is best for local schools. Far preferable is the Republican approach to just give the money to states and schools for an educational purpose they see fit.

Then there's the call for a federal hate-crimes law in response to a series of heinous murders of minorities and homosexuals. No one disputes the awful nature and motives of such crimes. But in each case, state and local officials tenaciously tracked down and prosecuted the offenders under state homicide laws. There is no need to overfederalize criminal law with a US hate-crimes statute.

The Supreme Court, in recent cases, has increasingly come down in favor of the states, part of the never-ending struggle to balance these federal-state responsibilities. In recent decades states have shown creative problem-solving - even though some may be laggards in addressing social problems - while problems with federal solutions only grow.

Critics don't like to acknowledge it, but state governments are closer to the governed, know what's best most of the time, and are more easily correctable.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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